Youth artists rally after new Berkeley mural is defaced

Mural by Youth Spirit Artworks at the old U-Haul building at 2100 San Pablo Ave. Photo: Courtesy YSA

It was a mural commissioned to bring life to a blighted vacant property, but, no sooner was it completed, on a Sunday in March, that taggers had defaced it, obscuring the results of hours of work by several young members of Youth Spirit Artworks.

The five youth and their two artist mentors were not deterred, however. They returned to 2100 San Pablo Ave. and, in a day, restored and repainted the mural, which can now be seen, bursting with animal life, including a bear feeding on leaping fish, a bird taking flight and a majestic buck.

“The resilience of the youth involved in revitalizing the community is to be lifted up,” said Sally Hindman, Executive Director of Youth Spirit Artworks, a Berkeley-based art jobs and job training program that works with homeless and low-income local youth. Hindman described the group as “indefatigable.”  Those who created the mural are: Onixi Vanderson, Omari Scott, Brandon Harris, Mary Stackiewicz and Inti Gonzalez, and they were overseen by artists Peskador and Eli Lippert.

The old U-Haul property on San Pablo and Addison is owned by developer Amir Kia who is hoping to build assisted-living housing there that will include hospice care for people with dementia. His company, Spirit Living Group, specializes in developing and operating senior communities, and built Bayside Park in Emeryville. (An original plan for rental housing at the San Pablo Avenue location did not work out, after community outreach and the application being seen by Berkeley’s Design Review Commission.)


One of the youth artists at work on the mural at 2100 San Pablo Ave. Photo: Courtesy YSA

Kia sponsored YSA to create a mural with the goal of brightening up the corner, not least as it faces the vibrant Vivir Sin Fonteras (Living Without Borders) mural on the wall of the Mi Tierra grocery store across the street.

“It is such a neglected corner,” Kia said last week, “and we had the potential to create something beautiful and serve the community.”

Kia said that it was disheartening to have seen the mural get tagged so quickly, but described the artists as “very resourceful.” “It’s almost like it didn’t happen,” he said.

Kia said the idea for the mural was suggested by one of the neighbors in the community who reached out to Hindman who, in turn, talked to Kia.

“Amir funded the project, he works with the community, and has been a long-time supporter of our work — he’s the kind of developer we would do well to encourage in Berkeley,” said Hindman.

And the new mural seems to be proving popular.

“It’s wonderful to see the interaction with neighbors who walk by on a corner that’s been an eyesore,” said Kia. “Kids go by and they talk to the animals!”

Mural by Youth Spirit Artworks at the old U-Haul building on San Pablo Avenue. Photo: Courtesy YSA
Tagging that was done almost as soon as the new Youth Spirit Artworks mural was completed. Photo: Courtesy YSA
Mural by Youth Spirit Artworks at the old U-Haul building on San Pablo Avenue. Photo: Courtesy YSA